"Croydon of the Fens"?
This is a little story of new brutalism about to hit Cambridge -- and a cautionary tale of how "news" is made (and made up).
As anyone who has come top Cambridge by train recently will know, the area around the station is being redeveloped in a massive project, with hotels, office blocks, flats (and the UK's largest bike park) known as CB1 .This isnt the place to have a rant about this. Suffice it to say that it is drearily undistinguished architecture, and quite out of scale with the predominantly low rise Cambridge. (As station developments go, it's more London Euston than London St Pancras -- there's a taster on the right.)
One of the casualties of this development may be a nice bit of nineteenth-century Cambridge vernacular architecture know as Wilton Terrace, which is a candidate for demolition. It was saved by the planning process once, but the developers have appealed. (There is a very balanced discussion of the issues here.)
Anyway, as I have a soft spot for this terrace (and a decidedly hard spot for CB1), I gave the campaign to save it (Friends of Wilton Terrace) a message of support:
“No good arguments have been put forward for the demolition of Wilton Terrace, which is a wonderful asset to the street scene at what is for many people their first approach to Cambridge. It is sad to contrast the brutalism of the cb1 development with this lovely bit of Cambridge vernacular."
They very properly asked if they could use it in their publicity and I said yes, of course.
They also contacted Gavin Stamp, who responded with some characteristic Gavin-prose:
"They are good examples of High Victorian domestic architecture, are sound and serviceable and deserve to survive. Clearly they stand in the way of the campaign to make Cambridge the Croydon of the Fens."
At this point things begin to go a bit awry.
A week or so after I'd sent off my quote, the Cambridge News had a front page notice (plus pic) saying that I had "joined the fight" to save the Terrace. Well true in a way, but I felt a bit guilty about this, as I had fired off a single quote, whereas other people had been devoting hours to the campaign.
Inside things got a little worse. The article quoted me and Gavin correctly, but got Gavin's name wrong (he became Camp!), and there was something about the way the article was laid out which meant that if you didnt read it carefully, it looked like it was me who had coined the phrase "Croydon of the Fens".
By the time it made the Telegraph, it was still just as accurate -- but somehow it looked even more like "Croydon of the Fens" was my coinage, especially when tweeted as "Mary Beard joins fight to stop Cambridge becoming "Croydon of the Fens".
At this point my wise assistant says, "This will be in the Croydon local press by this afternoon . . . it'll be "Prof attacks Croydon."
And sure enough, that is exactly what happened. And following the article in the Croydon Advertiser, the outrage of Croydon tweets was unleashed on me! Oh sh**, I thought. I get into scrapes when I speak my mind, but it is a bit rich to get lambasted for something you DIDN'T say. So I tweeted my affection for the lovely town of Croydon, and that it really wasn't me that said it! And fair enough the nice reporter did change the piece to make it clear. (Thank you!)
This is hardly much of a cause célèbre in misrepresentation. No one is going to be much the worse off for Beard having a wrong quote (sort-of) ascribed to her -- except for Beard having an uncomfortable 24 hours with the residents of Croydon. But it is a nice little object lesson in the Chinese whispers of news and Twitter -- and how even when you're not actually misquoted, a little story can take off entirely misleadingly.
At least, to give Twitter its due, it did allow me to squeal and say "it wasnt me".